With the number of coronavirus cases now topping three million in the U.S with over 130,000 deaths, many states and local government officials are scrambling to keep up with the spreading pandemic. Delmarva Public Media Essayist Steve Plotkin writes it's time to be angry.
Our American Infodemic
Our response to the pandemic is faltering, and already a world-class failure. It is so bad that the EU and the world is placing America in quarantine and closing its borders to U.S. visitors. Isn’t that incredible?
While Americans yearn for normalcy, our leaders have failed to lead the population and the pandemic. The administration offers little ferociously honest messaging, and useful leadership. And now our future is dark and lacks clarity.
So how do Americans feel right now? Anxious? Hopeful? Exhausted?
I am very angry! But why?
When leaders react to the Covid pandemic politically rather than clinically, everybody suffers. And then there is the pent-up frustration of millions after a few months of house arrest, leading to spontaneous irresponsible behavior. Also, the deficient administration of nursing homes and prisons. The virus testing shortage. There is no shortage of accusations.
We are in the grasp of a large scale “infodemic” regarding Covid-19.
An outbreak of misinformation infecting the minds, just as the virus lodges in the lungs.
Similar to the pandemic, some people are just more vulnerable than others to the infodemic. With dangerous ideas infecting minds, aberrant behavior closely follows.
Our infodemic appears to be all-American, and not attributable to the Russians or Chinese. It is homegrown, we did it to ourselves.
Our Media Ecosystem
Today’s nonsense news is aided by rapid worldwide transmission, enabled by the internet. Our democracy is based on shared truths, while an autocracy relies on shared lies. And lies spread faster than truth, while fake news outperforms real news.
It appears that fake news is fooling more conservatives than liberals. Why is that?
Our public media ecosystem is the largest breeding ground for opinion-making. Three studies on the role of conservative media point out a reign of fostering confusion and complacency. Conservative media is accused of amplifying misinformation, promoting conspiracy theories, and discouraging their audience from taking protective measures.
We are all sentient Americans, so what causes us to believe in alternative facts? Could it be our eye color, sexual orientation, blood type, or perhaps shoe size?
Since there is a straight line between thinking and acting, today we see incredible spectacles in places like Texas, Florida, and Arizona, with stadium-size daily runaway infection rates.
Conservatives appear more likely than liberals to question the official line on the pandemic. Their reluctance is part of a more general suspicion of mainstream information sources. We have a partisan gap in trust, first concerning journalists, then academics.
Conservative talker Rush Limbaugh, the popular talk-show host, harps on his “four corners of deceit”: the media, scientists, academia, and the government. So, who is left to believe? Politicians?
There is some evidence that ideology has jeopardized American public health, and constitutional rights issues have tangled with basic community health concerns. The notion that Federalism discourages federal mandates on things like face masks is criminal.
Imagine, after 7 months of a killer pandemic, with half a million dead worldwide, we are still divided over universally employing a basic defense called face masks?
With no vaccine and no cure, expect July to be a grim month for many states.
It was predictable.
It did not have to be this way, and I am mad!
This is Steve Plotkin for Delmarva Public Media